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What is Seller Disclosure?

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  • Written By: Mary S. Yamin-Garone
  • Edited By: J.T. Gale
  • Last Modified Date: 08 December 2016
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Thanks to the real estate seller disclosure form, it no longer is the age-old adage of buyer-beware, but rather buyer-benefits. Homeowners are now required to disclose information about any possible physical faults or deficiencies – that they are aware of – that may impede potential buyers from purchasing the property. A seller disclosure form is intended to eliminate some of the difficulties caused when owners neglect to acknowledge the true condition of the property. The form by no means offers a cure-all for settling buyer-seller disputes. It can, however, provide for less stressful negotiations.

These forms are separate from the contract of sale between the two parties. They usually are made available to prospective buyers at the time the property is being shown by a Realtor™. This document typically can aid in the decision-making process. Seller disclosure forms generally are available online, at office supply stores, from a Realtor™, or from a real estate attorney.

Most states require real estate disclosure forms. While these documents vary across the country, the basic information they solicit generally is the same – when the structure was built, its condition, and any amenities the property may have, such as swimming pools, decks, hot tubs, central air conditioning, wood stove or fireplace, and being cable-ready. Some states require a seller to disclose possible external hazards, too. These include noise and ground pollution, and any fire or potential natural hazards such as hurricanes, floods, or mudslides.

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Sellers typically should also disclose any masonry, electrical, plumbing, heating, or central air conditioning deficiencies. Any property damage caused by natural elements should be added to the document, as should the presence of asbestos, lead-based paint, radon, or contaminated water or dirt. In most locations, the presence of termites should be disclosed, as well. Sellers may want to include any repair or remodeling work they have done during ownership.

If the listed property is a condominium or if it resides in a subdivision, the seller typically should provide buyers with copies of the Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions (CC&Rs) bylaws and associated fees established by the homeowners' association. A seller is not required to make public any concealed deficiencies that only could be discovered by a professional. On the upside, real estate agents are still required to tell interested parties about any and all property defects they know about in spite of what has or has not been identified by the seller.

From a purchaser's point of view, one drawback of a seller disclosure form is determining whether or not the seller is disclosing everything. The sellers are given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their knowledge of existing deficiencies. They cannot be held responsible or legally punished for those problems of which they had no knowledge. Regardless of whether the seller is being completely honest or not, it typically is difficult to prove disclosure fraud in a court of law.

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